Sunday, January 26, 2003

Campbell's scoop

Celebrate Chinese New Year with food

By Polly Campbell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Where to eat for the Chinese New Year:

The year of the sheep or ram (this year, it's the year of the black sheep) begins Feb. 1. Celebrations begin the evening before, and last for 15 days.

While it's an important and festive holiday in the Asian world, with many associated foods and customs, Chinese New Year has never become a Chinese restaurant occasion here.

For one thing, it's a family and home-oriented holiday. And, says Alex Chin, owner of Pacific Moon CafÈ in Montgomery, where he used to offer a New Year's menu, most people didn't really like the traditional foods. But if you need an excuse to eat Chinese food, it's an excellent one. There are some offerings at local restaurants to take advantage of.

But first, you're supposed to pay off all your debts before the new year begins. So mail in the American Express bill before you make reservations.

China Gourmet in Hyde Park will have some specials on Friday night. Howard Moy, one of the owners, says that many people don't eat meat at the Chinese New Year, because even the animals should be able to celebrate. Noodles are often served; long and uncut to signify long life. So China Gourmet is offering a vegetarian stir-fry with bean-thread noodles and tofu. It will also serve deep-fried battered oysters with five-spice salt.

Many foods are eaten at New Year because their names sound like phrases that signify good luck, says Mr. Moy. That's why oysters are often eaten: The word for oyster sounds like a word that means good or peaceful. China Gourmet also have a traditional Cantonese roast chicken with star anise, and to commemorate the year of the sheep, there'll be pan-seared lamb in Szechwan marinade with spinach.

It's traditional to clean and sweep away the old year just before the new one begins. That's what they've done at Pacific Moon CafÈ. They recently renovated by putting in new carpet and wallpaper, new furniture and lots of green plants.

New Year's Day is on Saturday, when Pacific Moon always serves dim sum, the snack-size Chinese dishes to eat with tea. Mr. Chin says it will likely be very crowded on Saturday. There will be a few special New Year's dim sum dishes served, such as glutinous rice cooked in leaves and a special sweet pudding cake.

Johnny Chan 2 in Symmes Township will have an all-you-can-eat buffet on New Year's Eve. It will feature mostly familiar Chinese dishes, such as spareribs, kung pao chicken, scallion pancakes, pine nut fried rice and sesame balls. It costs $12.95, $6.95 for children under 10.

Or you can simply eat at your favorite restaurant and order long noodles for long life (Lulu's in Springdale, Doodles in Hyde Park, and Shanghai Mama's, downtown, have a lot of noodle dishes). Or try ordering a whole fish, which symbolizes wholeness and togetherness (the whole steamed tilapia at King Wok in Clifton is very good). Be sure, however, to avoid plain tofu, which is white, a symbol for bad luck and death.

And, in the spirit of the Chinese New Year, wear red, honor your ancestors and elderly relatives, gather your family together to eat, and make sure no one cries on that day. Spanking of children is not allowed.


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